by Vidur SethiAug 20, 2022
Imagine ‘crushing’ an almost seven feet tall classical marble in a trash compactor? The result can be bizarre, complex, layered, wild and surreal! This melange of emotions comes to life within a contemporary white cube gallery in L.A, United States, The Hole, as Adam Parker Smith stages his fifth solo exhibition. On entering this monumental space, one finds himself/herself engulfed amidst six cuboidal sculptures, that at first glance feel instinctively recognizable and bizarrely different. Titled ‘Crush’, Smith’s current show furthers his long-standing investigation into the legitimacy of classical forms as he unpacks this canon of statuary with a humorous twist.
On entering the space, one may feel an uncanny sense of familiarity. Noticeably, these art sculptures are a lot more than mere minimalist cubes. There are disoriented human figures packed within each cube - an upside torso, wavy locks, acrobatically twisted hands, compressed toes and somewhat recognizable faces. A closer introspection leads the beholder to the ultimate revelation - the true historic identity behind these anatomical sculptures. Despite the visual lexicon ‘crushes’ within a cuboidal aesthetic, the original historic titles continue to be associated with the 'crushed' forms. The installation artist says, “Giving the titles of the original pieces acts as a key to unlock the overall picture”. He pays homage to Greco-Roman sculptures, as he painstakingly chisels them out of Carrara marble blocks. Thus, the experience introduces Smith’s ultimate guide for viewing a sculpture – an interrogative journey from the unfamiliar to the familiar.
Decoding the psychology behind exploring the ‘Crush’, Adam says, “One of the ways I like to think of painting is from three distances: from 20 feet away, from 6 feet away, and then from 6 inches away. I believe an artwork needs to operate in its own unique way at each one of these distances. Then each one of the impressions given at those distances has to relate to each other. Not to say that relationships become more intimate the closer you get because I think that you can still have an intimate relationship from afar; but that they evolve. Each evolution should relate to the last. To walk in and think they are a minimalist cube and then to realise these relate to a history of sculpture, these are cognitively the 20 feet, the 6 feet, the 6 inches, that the work is operating within.”
Turning a few pages into the past, it would be interesting to know more about the sculpture artist’s first encounter with the greatest hits of Hellenic and Baroque sculptures - Apollo of Belvedere, Cupid Triumphant, Bernini’s David, and others. His tryst goes back to his student days in Rome. Smith recollects, “I had a Belgian environmental teacher who was deeply passionate about Hellenistic sculpture - so passionate that he would close his eyes while talking about it. His passion helped me to appreciate it. Ever since, I have been moderately engaged, which relates to the lineage of the historical works.”
What started off as a mere act of appreciation, led Adam to interrogate and blur lines between historically canonised admiration and presently experienced resentment, post the artsy consumption. “There are some things about the sculptures themselves, and the mythologies that they represent, that are problematic, as well as the way they have been presented over the last hundreds of years. Especially where they have been sort of white-washed. For instance, the way institutions display them or the way they have been acquired oftentimes has been shameful.” Expressing his innate feelings he adds, “My general feeling is that there are a lot of things about these works that are really magnificent. They are foundational blocks. No pun intended!” Whilst expressing his resentment, Smith’s chiselled disoriented figures still manage to capture the visual aesthetics of these Hellenic-Baroque sculptures - intense facial expression, contorted body poses and exemplified props. The execution conveys his true mastery as they are “carved in the same fashion as their historical counterparts”, in the artist’s words.
The visual artist along with a team of master carvers, a seven-axis reductive robot, and the digital research teams at art museums like the Uffizi can be attributed to the complex refashioning of these ancient sculptures. “The amount of love, time, and care that went into these sculptures mixed with the joke or prank is what matters”, the artist shares. Smith’s stylistic humour hides beneath these compact cubes. “Being crushed and confined triggers a sense of dread as well as calm. I think that is the way humour operates quite often: by making light of this portrait or discomfort. It is the concept of the classic tragedy-comedy. They have to work together to be successful on their own", he adds.
‘Crush’ alludes to Smith’s complex feelings for these sculptures. Originally modelled as idyllic bodies, Smith’s cubes introduce a new perspective for the viewers. Interesting to note that, unlike the original sculptures, making eye-to-eye contact with these deific faces is often a tedious task for the viewers. These radically reshaped works defamiliarize canonised notions of classical forms. In doing so, Smith humorously interrupts and ‘crushes’ the expected chain of admiration, allowing us to challenge, approach and connect with them in profound ways.